Crops SmartNews

Farm Babe: Michigan asparagus season is one reason it’s important to buy local


Buy LOCAL. If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough, it’s buy LOCAL. We’ve all probably heard that before, but why does it matter so much?

Well, imported produce is a real threat to our nation’s farmers, particularly in the fresh-produce industry. After spending a fair amount of time with asparagus experts, growers, packers, and other stakeholders in Michigan recently, a major trend emerged across this state and others, as well as in produce commodities: 100% of the real people involved in this industry (that I’ve spoken to) are frustrated with imports from places such as Peru and Mexico that the United States can’t compete with, cost-wise especially.

Golden Stock Farms
Golden Stock Farms LLC is an asparagus farm in Michigan. (Image courtesy of Michelle Miller)

The U.S. has some of the highest food and worker safety standards in the world, with strict regulations in place to ensure good well-deserved wages and benefits for these very hard-working farm laborers.

What do U.S. farms pay workers an hour? Workers in other countries may make that in an entire day.

I spoke with one U.S. farm operator who’s payroll is sometimes upwards of $35,000 per day just to keep the farm running. Necessary immigrant farm workers — particularly in the H2A program — have housing, transportation, childcare, and other benefits available to them and are treated very well; it’s incentive to return year after year, and send their earnings back to their families in their native countries. We all depend on them and appreciate them greatly.

Asparagus pickers on carts in Oceania County, Michigan (Image courtesy of Michelle Miller)

When cheap imported produce comes into the U.S., it drives down the costs that our farmers are paid for their crop, and major grocery chains will not buy from our own country because it’s so much cheaper to source from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, and elsewhere.

When grocers stop buying from us or won’t pay the premium for USA grown (high cost of production) it ends up getting to the point where the cost to harvest is more expensive than the crop is actually worth, so our own farmers cannot stay in business. The crop is wasted; hard work down the drain.

What happens when our farms are no longer? We are already losing 3 acres of farmland every minute due to urban development, and if farms don’t have the land and resources to thrive, American consumers will be further dependent on foreign imports and government intervention to keep everyone fed. And who really wants that? No farms, no food.

So what can you do?

Demand in season locally grown produce at your food retailers whenever possible, and speak up with your dollars. If there’s one thing you can do to help farmers in our communities thrive, always buy from your own area and state first, your own country second, and of course, imports still play an important role.

Image courtesy of Michelle Miller

Asparagus is a particularly special example because it has a short shelf life and the season is only a couple of months long to be able to buy it fresh and local. So during May and June, if you’re in Michigan, look for Michigan Asparagus; if you’re elsewhere, find what’s local to you to ensure our farmers stay in business. It’s better for you — more fresh and flavorful, it likely wasn’t trucked thousands of miles to get to you, and they only get two months a year to get the job done.

Give them that time to shine. Support #USAgrown.

Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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